Discrimination and sectarianism are widespread in Northern Ireland’s schools, the largest teachers’ union has said.
The concerns were raised at the inaugural equalities conference of the NASUWT on Monday.
A real time poll of delegates found that 48 per cent of teachers had experienced discrimination in accessing employment or career progression, two-thirds (67 per cent) believed sectarianism was a problem within their school and 41 per cent said they believed disabled teachers experienced difficulty in securing reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
Justin McCamphill of NASUWT said: “Teachers are telling us that there is a clear need for action within schools to address prejudice, sectarianism and discrimination.
“Schools can be a major catalyst for change in society and they should be at the forefront of driving the equality agenda.”
In her keynote address to the conference, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “We have a society already riven with inequality and injustice, as a result of the savage austerity measures, including attacks on welfare.
“The severe financial constraints placed on the Northern Ireland Assembly have had dire consequences for public services and for communities.
“The education budget alone has been eroded over the last five years by around £1.5 billion as a result of the reductions in funding.
“Poverty levels are rising. Poverty drives inequality and is a key inhibitor to educational progress. Schools cannot tackle poverty alone. There must be a coherent strategy focusing on housing, health and education alongside other specific measures to tackle poverty.”
Ms Keates added: “Our individual casework and research demonstrates that discrimination against women, older teachers, those with disabilities, younger and LGBT teachers is rife. Employers and politicians are simply failing to adopt any coherent equality strategy.
“Schools, employers and the Department of Education are failing in their statutory duties to promote equality and this situation simply cannot be tolerated.”